Review: For 3-plus hours, Taylor Swift delivers a master class in pop ambition
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Taylor Swift stood onstage at State Farm Stadium, lights bouncing off her bedazzled leotard, and absorbed the sound of the 70,000 or so fans in front of her.
"I don't know how to process all of this and the way it's making me feel right now," she said. "I can't even go into how much I missed you because there's no way to verbalize it."
What Swift could put into words Friday night as she kicked off the Eras tour — her first road show since 2018, since the beginning of the pandemic, since the release of four separate studio albums (and rerecorded versions of two older LPs) — was how this whole thing would go. "Tonight we're gonna be going on an adventure," she told the audience. "We're gonna be exploring the last 17 years of music that I've been lucky enough to make and you've been kind enough to care about."
Which, OK, sure — that's how tours by famous and beloved pop acts work. And yet this show did actually feel like a novel experience, with a whopping 44 songs from all 10 of Swift's studio albums parceled out in distinct chapters over three hours and 15 minutes. Each section had its own costumes and color scheme: that sparkly pink leotard (and matching boots) for 2019's "Lover," for instance, and a flouncy ballgown for 2010's fairy-tale-obsessed "Speak Now." For the portion of the concert dedicated to "Red," the breakthrough 2012 smash that set her on the path toward superstardom, Swift, 33, wore a version of her T-shirt from her "22" music video, only instead of reading "NOT A LOT GOING ON AT THE MOMENT," this one read, "A LOT GOING ON AT THE MOMENT" — a subtle yet meaningful tweak meant to flatter the attentiveness of the many eagle-eyed Swifties in the house.
Indeed, Friday's production rolled out like fan service of the most thorough and elaborate kind. "We have a lot of time for me to try to sum up how I'm feeling about how much I've missed you and how happy I am to see you," Swift told the crowd at one point, doing what she could to repay a sense of demand so intense that Ticketmaster crashed when tickets for the 52-date tour went on sale last fall.
But the concert was also a showcase of the range and versatility that have made Swift the most successful singer-songwriter in an age defined by hip-hop. She offered yearning acoustic ballads like "Lover" and "Enchanted," her voice high and winsome; she sneered through sarcastic electro-pop tracks like "Look What You Made Me Do," "You Need to Calm Down" and "The Man," the last a sly commentary on restrictive gender roles that played out on a set designed to look like an office.
Accompanied by a band that included four backing vocalists, she burrowed into the intricate bedroom-folk sounds of her twin pandemic LPs, "Folklore" and "Evermore," singing "Invisible String" from atop a mock-up of a mossy woodland cabin. Flanked by dancers, she went big and shiny for the one-two punch of "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" into "I Knew You Were Trouble," then went even bigger and shinier for the section of the show devoted to "1989," her most exuberant release. "Midnights," which broke a number of sales and streaming records when it came out in October, got one of the night's longest sequences as Swift strung together seven of its bleary R&B-adjacent cuts, including "Lavender Haze," "Midnight Rain" and the Hot 100-topping "Anti-Hero"; in each she smeared the edges of her voice, using it for texture as much as for narrative.
Her photo-album approach inevitably played to the nostalgia of an audience that's grown up with Swift. "Ready to go back to high school with me?" she asked before a sweetly strummy rendition of "You Belong With Me," from 2008's "Fearless" — one of the early LPs she's lately remade in a shrewd campaign to reclaim the financial rewards of music whose ownership has changed hands a couple of times. Later, she reached even further into history for the lovesick "Tim McGraw," her first single as a teenage country phenom, which she performed here on an upright piano painted with flowers. (The piano was on a small secondary stage at the end of a runway that jutted out onto the stadium floor, where Swift also did an unplugged-style take on "Mirrorball" in a slot she said would feature a different song every night of the tour.)
At its best, though, Friday's show complicated the emotional unbottling involved in the performance of a great pop song. The concert's highlight came at almost precisely the midpoint in a passionately determined run through the epic 10-minute version of Swift's song "All Too Well" that arrived in 2021 on her rerecording of "Red." On the album, "All Too Well" sifts carefully through the wreckage of a youthful romantic relationship with the wisdom of a few years' worth of hindsight. Yet on stage here, slashing at an acoustic guitar while dressed in a glittering floor-length robe that gave her an almost wizardly vibe, she made the song into a kind of treatise on youth itself — on the illusions one allows oneself to buy into in the pursuit of a happiness that never lasts.
Talk about a lot going on at the moment: She'd promised a trip back through her past and delivered a dismantling of it instead.
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